How to Run Safely in Hot Weather

by Jim Richardson | Last Updated: July 12, 2020

The high temperatures of summer send many people indoors for their workouts. However, exercising inside week after week can get old pretty quickly. Unfortunately, heading outside for exercise in the heat can be potentially dangerous. The big issue is that high temperatures mean the body’s natural cooling system can be overwhelmed.

Exercise naturally raises the body’s temperature. The body adjusts by drawing off heat, both through sweat and by sending more blood near the surface of the skin. In hot weather, this process becomes more difficult — especially if high humidity reduces the evaporation of sweat. Problems such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke can develop. Heat stroke can even be life-threatening.

Luckily, it is actually perfectly possible to head outside during hot weather — as long as the proper precautions for staying safe and relatively comfortable in the heat are followed. Here are the seven key rules you should always follow.

1. Wear lightweight, loose, light-coloured clothing

The proper clothing will make hot-weather exercise much more bearable. Opt for lightweight, breathable workout clothes that rest loosely on your body. Synthetic fabrics designed to wick sweat are an excellent option for exercise gear. Choose clothes with light colours, since dark colours reflect less heat.

2. Use sunscreen

Hot temperatures almost always means a glaringly sunny day. Protecting your skin from the sun and the risk of sunburn is vital. Wearing a baseball cap or another hat can keep your head cool, while also blocking the sun. Any parts of the body that are exposed must be protected with sunscreen.

3. Drink lots of fluid

The more you sweat, the more liquids you need to consume. Dehydration is a serious danger when exercise and high temperatures combine to cause profuse sweating. High humidity further increases sweating. Consume liquids before, after, and (for longer workouts) during exercise.

4. Consider consuming a sports drink

While drinking only plain water in high temperatures is usually okay, consuming a sports drink such as Powerade or Gatorade can be better. Sports drinks contain electrolytes, minerals critical to muscle functioning that are lost through sweat. The longer a workout, the more valuable sports drinks are.

5. Start gradually

Since exercising in the heat can be very taxing, it makes sense to work your way up to longer workouts. You don’t want to discover you are exhausted and nauseous halfway through a long run. Being cautious when it comes to an activity with a serious medical risk is just common sense. Plus, it can take a few weeks for the body to adjust to exercising in high temperatures. These rules especially apply if you are older or in subpar health.

6. Avoid extreme heat

While it is possible to work out in high temperatures, that doesn’t mean that doing so is always a good idea. Don’t go out during the hottest part of the day if you can avoid it. Apply the same rule to the strongest sunlight. If temperatures rise above 100°, it probably makes sense to opt for an indoor workout instead.

7. Watch for warning signs

While taking the needed precautions should be enough to keep you safe, it still makes sense to know the red flags for a heat-related health problem — better safe than sorry. Some of the symptoms to be aware of include nausea, cramping, dark-coloured urine, lightheadedness, dizziness, weakness, headache, and excessive sweating. The most severe symptoms, which include hot but dry skin, seizures, unconsciousness, and an internal temperature of 105°  or more, represent a medical emergency.

While working out in the heat is certainly feasible, it can also clearly be risky. Staying safe is paramount, so be sure you follow the seven rules described in this article rigorously.